6th September 2022
Read (Hebrews 1)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
By the grace of God over the next few months my devotions will focus on the book of Hebrews. At times it is a difficult book to understand and it is certainly the source of much head scratching over the issue of who actually wrote it. It has always been a controversial topic but in recent times the accepted wisdom was that the book was written by the Apostle Paul thus giving him fourteen New Testament books. Indeed if your Bible isn't a modern publication you might find the following words "The Letter of Paul to the Hebrews"
Newer Bibles tend not to have that statement and if you have ever listened to Hebrews preached you will probably have heard Paul's name replaced by something like "the author to the Hebrews" What's the problem here? Quite simply today's scholarship suggests that Paul wasn't the author of the letter. Paul's fourteen letters have become thirteen and Hebrews is a little bit like the planet Pluto which has now been relegated to dwarf-planet status.
Why the controversy? As simply as I can put it, Hebrews contains many of Paul's ideas but not Paul's language and style. You'll notice as you read Hebrews that it is anonymous and there isn't the usual greeting that accompanies Paul's other letters (there is however a suggestion of his usual farewell in Hebrews 13v16-25). Additionally we read in Hebrews 2v3 "The Gospel was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard" but Paul seems to say the opposite in Galatians 1v12 "For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." Also Hebrews was originally written in Greek and the style used is noticeably different from Paul's other works. Everything seems to suggest that Paul didn't write Hebrews.
But who did? Many candidates have been put forward including Barnabas, Apollos, an unknown author or perhaps one of Paul's companions who wrote down a sermon preached by the Apostle. At this stage the majority position rejects Paul as the author without naming for certain a replacement. In this regard nothing has changed. Church councils in the late fourth century rejected any notion that Paul wrote Hebrews and later at the time of the Reformation both Martin Luther and John Calvin denied that the book belonged to Paul.
So what do I think? I've always preached Hebrews as from Paul. I'm aware of the difficulties of this position and I'll not fall out with you if you think I'm wrong but I do see Paul's fingerprints in this great book and I'm encouraged by ancient voices from the church. Origen (185-253AD) wrote "If any church, then, regards this epistle as Paul’s, let it be commended on this score; for it was not for nothing that the men of old have handed it down to us as Paul’s.” and Clement of Alexandria (150-215AD) stated confidently “Paul wrote the Hebrews in the Hebrew language and that Luke carefully translated it into Greek.”
Therefore these devotions assume that Paul was the author of Hebrews but needless to say Paul won't be the subject of these devotions. We can make a gentle case for Hebrews being a letter to Christians from a Jewish background probably in the city of Rome at sometime before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD (although all of this is as disputed as the authorship). It seems that these Christians were tempted to return to their Jewish roots and the focus of the letter was to turn their gaze upon Jesus.
Christ should still be our focus. We can fight and argue over trivial matters but as the Apostle shows us in Hebrews, Christ is supreme. He is greater than the angels, greater than Moses, greater than Melchizedek, greater than all. I trust we'll see that in vivid colours as we walk our way through Hebrews. Did Paul write Hebrews? Only God knows for sure but ultimately the Lord is the author of the Bible. May He speak powerfully to our souls and may we realise again that Christ alone is our supreme and greatest good.
Q45 Which is the first commandment? The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.